SPARKS, Md. — The United States national team’s cycle started anew Saturday afternoon in the USA Lacrosse Fall Classic, the program’s first competition since claiming the world championship in July.
That proved to be the international swansong for generational stars Taylor Cummings and Kayla Treanor and others, absences that will naturally be felt for a while. But the initial steps toward Team USA’s next memorable achievement mean it’s time to look forward.
“Yesterday at practice was a little weird,” midfielder Marie McCool said. “There was definitely a void with all of the players that just retired and I think it was a moment where we got to look at each other. Today was our first opportunity to show the world what the future of U.S. lacrosse is and also honor those who came before us and continue to build off the legacy that they left.”
Charlotte North scored five goals, McCool and Ellie Masera both scored twice and Sam Apuzzo recorded three assists as the U.S. pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 13-7 victory over defending NCAA Division I champion North Carolina.
Caylee Waters made five saves in the first half for Team USA while Taylor Moreno stopped six shots after the break, a pair of former Tar Heels splitting the goalie duties on a day with a distinct Carolina Blue vibe.
That was especially true for coach Jenny Levy, whose remarkable year included leading the Tar Heels to their third national title in the spring, coaching the U.S. team to its fourth consecutive gold medal in the world championship over the summer and entering the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
There were nine current or former North Carolina players on the national team roster Saturday, and Levy is obviously well-versed on the current Tar Heels.
“I had to kind of adjust early because I’ve been in Carolina practice for the past couple months,” Levy said. “Knowing some of the things we’ve been working on and seeing somebody out there go against a world-class defender or a world-class midfielder, what a great opportunity for them to see where they need to get better and where they have to improve.”
Caitlyn Wurzburger scored three goals for North Carolina. The junior is coming off a 34-goal, 42-assist season but is the only one of the Tar Heels’ six 50-point scorers returning from a season ago.
“She wants to lead and she wants to be the quarterback,” Levy said. “Today I think was a great example of what she can do. I don’t think she always has to be the person feeding or assisting, but I know we’ll rely on her quite a bit to get this crew up and running come February.”
There was plenty McCool took from the game, both as a national team member and for her day job. A 2018 North Carolina graduate, she started a role as a full-time assistant coach in August after scoring 20 goals for Team USA during the world championships in Towson, Md.
It all meant she had a unique perspective Saturday.
“I’m just so proud of them,” McCool said. “They did such a great job. There were times I’m on defense and I just want to coach them, but I was like ‘No, I’m a player now.’ I thought they did a great job of adjusting and it was really cool to be a part of that experience.”
Team USA never trailed, though it maintained a snug 7-6 advantage after three quarters. North took over from there, scoring four times during a 5-0 run to help put things away. North Carolina was held scoreless for 21:02 before Wurzburger scored with 16 seconds remaining.
That dominant final third of the game created separation for a U.S. team that has plenty of role-sorting to do in the wake of its title. There are several key pieces like North and McCool who could be the cornerstones of this championship cycle that celebrated this summer’s title.
But things aren’t entirely the same.
“We had some new faces, but also not-so-new,” McCool said “They were just as important in our journey these past five years. All of them have been on the U.S. team and have been working with us at training weekends, so they were a really special part of what we accomplished this summer.”
And as for what’s next? For Team USA veterans like McCool, the opportunity to follow up on a long string of success started this weekend.
“I’ve been so fortunate to be led not only by phenomenal lacrosse players, but leaders and great people,” McCool said. “I’ve learned so much from them along the way. Hopefully, I can carry the torch.